Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, February 26th, 2015

No man who is correctly informed as to the past will be disposed to take a morose or desponding view of the present.

Lord Macaulay

South North
Both ♠ 4 3
 K J 9
 J 10 6 4
♣ 9 8 6 2
West East
♠ A 9 8 7 5
 8 7 4
 K 7
♣ 10 4 3
♠ Q J 10
 6 5
 9 8 5 2
♣ K Q 7 5
♠ K 6 2
 A Q 10 3 2
 A Q 3
♣ A J
South West North East
2 NT Pass 3 NT All pass


This deal came up nearly 50 years ago and, at the time, nobody blamed West too much for his defense, but if the hand were played today, the result might well have been different.

Against three no-trump West led the spade seven to the three, 10 and king. The contract seemed to depend on the diamond finesse, but declarer did well to lead the heart 10 to dummy’s jack and ran the diamond jack to West’s king. From West’s point of view, South might have started with king-queen-third of spades, in which case another spade lead could well give declarer his ninth trick. So West shifted to a club, hoping that his partner held an entry, and now declarer had 10 tricks.

Let us advance in time – firstly, North might well have enquired for four or five card majors by bidding three clubs over two no-trumps – this would have led to a contract of four hearts which, although defeated on best defense, might easily scramble home.

Secondly, this was before the days of Smith Peters, so East could not suggest by his play to the first diamond trick whether or not he liked his partner’s opening lead. Thirdly, technique has improved – against three no-trump East will contribute the jack, not the 10, to the first trick. Then West will know that it is safe to lead another low spade for, from his point of view, either his partner holds the queen or declarer still has the queen and 10.

Your partner's double is take-out, suggesting real extras, but your hand seems eminently suitable for defense. I would pass expecting partner to have a strong hand with maybe 4-4-2-3 pattern and 18+ points, and that the opponents would have nowhere to run.


♠ 4 3
 K J 9
 J 10 6 4
♣ 9 8 6 2
South West North East
Pass 1♠ Dbl. Pass
2♣ 2 Dbl. Pass

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Bobby WolffMarch 12th, 2015 at 4:26 pm

Hi Everyone,

Why, assuming the defenders were playing Smith Echo or Smith Peters. would declarer have been better off if his heart suit had been the AQ1065 instead of the AQ1032?

By the mere correct answer to the above question will result in an understanding of the worth of what declarer can do in order to geometrically increase his chances of provoking his worthy opponents into frequent wrong decisions.

Mircea1March 12th, 2015 at 9:05 pm

Hi Bobby,

Obviously, if declarer started with AQ1065 in hearts, West may have had trouble deciding if East’s H3 is a high card.

Are you recommending Smith Echo?

Bobby WolffMarch 12th, 2015 at 10:02 pm

Hi Mircea”1″,

Right on target, especially if declarer falsecards the 10 like he did. That legally deceptive play, is very much an immense major factor in eventually determining a consistent winner as distinguished from occasional.

Yes, I guess I am advocating Smith Echo, which indeed is a very useful source of information, AS LONG AS THE PARTNERSHIP IS CAREFUL TO PLAY IT ACTIVELY ETHICAL, not easily done unless a fierce determination to do so, is held by both partners.

And for those relative newbies not accustomed to the nuances of bridge ethics, the pause between making the signalling play, when next is the chance to do it, can be telltale, depending on what the signaller holds. He (or she) must be ready to make all plays in almost the exactly same tempo regardless of the difficulty in sometimes doing so.

If a player determines that he is probably not able to do that yet, he should postpone playing Smith Echo until he deems himself ready. Our great game requires those kinds of discretions, without which we have no game left, especially the one I know as off-the-charts elegant.

Without the necessary ethics, quite frankly that convention, along with full odd & even signals, should remain only on the drawing board.

Iain ClimieMarch 12th, 2015 at 10:47 pm

Hi Bobby,

Would you recommend standard Smith echo (high card encourages the suit led), reversed Smith echo or is it a toss up? I was actually more impressed by the suggested play of the J from QJ10 although again playing in tempo is crucial.



jim2March 12th, 2015 at 10:55 pm

The BWTA postulated bidding again troubles me.

East’s failure to bid 2S, in a real world hand, would be very suggestive. That is, it would seem that East has many more diamonds than spades. So, if East has a singleton spade then — for North to have only four spades — West would need six. That, in turn, means that West’s second suit could very, very well be five cards for West to bid it in this sequence.

This means West’s likely shape is 6-1-5-1 across from East’s 1-4-4-4, making North’s likely shape 4-5-0-4.

Thus, we will have declined to play in either of our 8-card fits so that our opponents can enjoy playing in their 9-card fit in a doubled contract that we almost certainly cannot defeat. In fact, I suspect we will get the chance to review how doubled overtricks are scored.

In summary, the fewer spades South holds, the more West must hold. The fewer spades East holds, the more likely they just found a good fit.

Bobby WolffMarch 12th, 2015 at 11:59 pm

Hi Iain,

Since I haven’t had much experience playing Smith Echo, but rather instead, adjudicating it, my guess is that there is little to choose between the two methods you suggest, opposite to each other. However that question and the other somewhat logical approach to helping partner legally (playing the jack from QJ10 as a 3rd seat player, particularly at NT where partner is likely to be underleading an ace, but not against a suit contract) tends to sometimes possibly present an ethical dilemma and at other times., not.

The ethical question involved pertains to life’s golden rule. Do the opponents as you would wish them to do to you, would and only could mean that certainly play in tempo when able to, but when not, partner should lean over backwards to not take advantage simply meaning if you feel that at least some UI Unauthorized information) is passed on to you, then one is obligated to NOT take advantage if another defense looms as a decent one (yes, in spite of your gut feeling that to do so will cost you that hand). After doing that and quickly partner (and you) will be on the lookout for these types of situations and play more quickly (in tempo) and lo and behold, your opponents will show you the same respect your partnership has now earned.

Everyone wins, especially the game itself.

Now after today, the play of the J from QJ10 should be able to be done in tempo against NT.

Thanks for allowing this critical subject about high-level bridge ethics to be brought up.

Bobby WolffMarch 13th, 2015 at 12:19 am

Hi Jim2,

Indeed, you present a rather dark side to the discussion of the BWTA problem.

First and foremost, North holding 4-5-0-4 and then doubling again (when he shouldn’t have considered one earlier) has become a masochist since he should realize that a 2nd double, usually (almost always) show either 2 or 3 (no more) in responder’s first bid suit, but above all a reasonably balanced hand but about an 18-21 HCP hand, and either 3-5-2-3 or 4-4-2-3. East could easily pass with 2, 3 in spades and diamonds and should feel no obligation to return to the primary suit, especially since North’s 2nd double is not necessarily penalty oriented.

Perhaps the following admonition should be stated: The key to very high-level bidding is not to always make the bid which works out the best result wise, but rather to make a series of bids which when taken in their entirety seem to be not only reasonable but best. Applying that to North’s proposed first double with a void in an unbid suit, at least to me (unless the hand is equivalent to a GF with a great suit beside) is an impossible one and thus to be avoided. In other words any bidding sequence to be discussed should always be so with the whole bidding sequence not just the key bid, being rated as the best choice or not.

And again, if North does decide to weirdly double with a void in diamonds, and then to escape that danger, now double again when partner might be tempted to pass is nothing less than high bridge treason! Strong letter to follow.

Mircea1March 13th, 2015 at 3:19 am

Hi Bobby,

So if I got it right, if opponents play Standard Smith, declarer false cards upside-down, right?

On an unrelated matter, in case you’re wondering why “1” in my name, that’s the solution I found to the problem of not being able to post.

jim2March 13th, 2015 at 12:33 pm

Sorry not to respond earlier — Dear Host — but was dealing with stuff away from the keyboard!

What I was trying to say about the BWTA was what I tried to get across in my opening sentence. That is, I found it very difficult to fit the postulated bidding and the provided hand together in a credible card layout. Let me present the points:

1) West has two suits: spades and diamonds.

2) East must be substantially shorter in spades than diamonds not to preference back to spades.

3) South has only two spades, but has four cards in the diamond suit that E-W appear to have a fit.

4) All those missing spades (10?!) must be divided between North and West, yet North did not raise raise South’s clubs or make a cue bid in either available enemy suit, and also did not bid hearts.

Now, on your response to me, if we presume North really has just two spades, as South also does and that East surely has only one (two absolutely max), then West is left with eight on this bidding. Does that fit with West’s bidding?

So, re-summarizing, I have had trouble trying to candidate layout match for the BWTA bidding and the hand. What I offered in my original comment was the best i could do. Is there a better one I missed? Did I misunderstand one of the bids?

Bobby WolffMarch 13th, 2015 at 2:38 pm

Hi Mircea1,

I now understand your question and only probably didn’t earlier, because my learning approached that problem as independent rather than categorical (probably your way is better and, most important, easier to grasp, therefore to stay learned).

Concerning the hand in question, the play of the ten of hearts to the jack (originally holding the AQ1032) is brilliantly deceptive, yet very simple to execute. The necessary elements present are:

1. Opening 1NT with a good 5 card major, a fact not yet known to the wily opponents,

2. Having a combined strong enough holding (in this case, hearts) to not worry about untoward breaks and therefore worth the obfuscation.

3. I can assure you, when this basically automatic type deception occurs, when playing against excellent battle hardened bridge veterans, it will take its positive toll against talented younger, less experienced opponents who have up to then, used the specific played cards to basically try and get crucial inferential counts on the hand, only to then begin to understand what quality opponents are there to do, be as tough as they know how or to quote a wartime analogy, bomb their nuclear facility, (playing the heart ten), before they have a chance to put you out of business.

Regarding the 1 you added, do you know why they (whoever that is) told you to add it to your moniker, because Judy, being my sergeant-at-arms, may, if she had enough facts, wage a battle with “they” for making it more difficult to merely state your name and then be a member, especially such a productive bridge lover as you?

Bobby WolffMarch 13th, 2015 at 4:03 pm

Hi Jim2,

In some ways, on this specific hand, we are somewhat at cross purposes in our discussion.

Yes, your analytical approach has suggested to you that on this hand North may even be void in diamonds and while I would tend to not go nearly that far, certainly East’s preference for diamonds seems to suggest (basically from the evidence of South only holding 2 spades).

My contention is that North should never double 1 spade with a diamond void (unless he was prepared to handle partner’s likely diamond takeout and that could only be a GF hand with a suit of his own, but wanting to show great strength along with a likely game in his own hand). My conclusion is that North’s 2nd double showed a balanced 18+ hand likely without 5 good enough hearts or 4 clubs, but one in which he wanted his partner to make a second contribution as to his distribution and already somewhat limited strength.

And since, with these situations (a strong balanced hand by North) it opens up a definite possibility for conversion to penalties with a partner, not strong, but holding J10xx in diamonds (opposite that BALANCED hand) to allow partner to think: We have more HCPs than them and at least 6 trumps so why should they be able to take 8 tricks to our 5, but rather we might be able to take 8 tricks to their 5.

Everything in my judgment rests with the entire bidding sequence, not with the hand you suggested (4-5-0-4) which to me was an impossible takeout double to start with.

The key to all of our learning experiences (yours, mine and everyone listening) is the totality of the bidding, not just the last thrust.

As a practical matter, your possible hand (at least made realistic, IYO, by East’s pass of 2 diamonds, made sense, and indeed if North became privy to that exact sequence he would love for his then 2nd double to be strictly for takeout; but alas, at least according to me, that is not consistent with what high-level bidding has recognized. The main concern should be geared to the most likely hands which often arise together with the best way to be able to deal with them.

Bridge often is an exhilarating experience with no upper limit to its excitement, but sometimes the contentions (sometimes veiled but always present) cause disagreements. All of us accent our personal preferences for settling those differences and mine is usually what I, from my experience, consider to be consistent.

While I think noble, it is certainly not the only way to get to where we wanted to arrive, but just a way station on the road to playing the game as well as we can.

In conclusion, I think a potential good partnership should always be aware of how our particular partner (or as some describe playfully) ox, should never be thrust in a position of not knowing the type of strong hand which is attempting to be described.

Disasters can be prevented, but only by players who are dedicated to that consistency.

jim2March 13th, 2015 at 4:29 pm

I truly apologize if I am beating the by-now-fossilized equine remains, but I use bridge columns and quizzes to help me learn to better build candidate layouts “by ear.” I often cover all the hands but the South one, for example, go through the bidding, guess layouts, and then remove my hands to compare.

On the BWTA in question, I could not identify any layout that matched the provided bidding. The one I posted, while flawed as you noted (and I knew it was from the start) is the closest I could come.

What was the one used (or that was in mind) when formulating the quiz?

Mircea1March 13th, 2015 at 5:33 pm

Hi Bobby,

If the opponents would have played Reversed Smith, declarer should have started with his lowest heart instead of the 10, right? I’m trying to make an analogy with the attitude false carding when declarer will (false) “signal” the same way as the opponents, standard if they play standard or upside down if they play UDCA. If my assumption is correct, it appears that declarer will have to false-card Smith the other way (Standard if they play Reverse Smith and Reverse if they play Standard Smith). I hope this makes sense.

As far as the 1 in my name it was just a quick and easy fix to a recurring problem I started having when my posts would simply not go through. I got in touch with “they” and was told that no solution is available so after a bit of troubleshooting (I do computers for a living) I determined that the easiest way to deal with this very frustrating situation is to just alter my moniker – it worked. I don’t think you need to release the hounds on this one.

Bobby WolffMarch 13th, 2015 at 5:46 pm

Hi Mircea1,

I promise to keep my hounds caged especially if you come to the aid of my computer knowledge.

Although I never seem to have a real computer problem, not going completely out, but often they just get sluggish which just be their way of telling me to “get lost”.

In any event I now know who to turn to in case of computer alarm, instead of Judy, who I keep tied up in the basement.

Bobby WolffMarch 13th, 2015 at 5:55 pm

Hi Jim2,

There was not just a model, because if there was one, it would have included more spades and fewer hearts.

I guess I keep underestimating the extraordinary numerate talents of the current commentators, you being the role model. To me that attribute seemed to be in short supply in the distant past, but not anymore.

I am getting unbalanced considering my age together with my having to stand on my tip toes to just compete.

Bobby WolffMarch 13th, 2015 at 6:05 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Yes, reverse Smith calls for playing one’s lowest one to practice, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

Which BTW, that sinister proverb I first ran into with the forward to one of Terence Reese’s early great books on bridge, likely written in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s.

Possibly it was intended to be a dead giveaway to what he had in store for all of bridge later on.

Mircea1March 13th, 2015 at 6:27 pm


Please don’t hesitate to call me if you ever need help or advise with your computer(s). I would be more than happy to help. I am on the East coast. send me an e-mail to mg at kwcomputerconcepts dot com to establish direct communication. And please, set Judi free 🙂

Judy Kay-WolffMarch 14th, 2015 at 1:05 am

Hi Mircea,

Thanks for your concern. Bobby freed me up to play in today’s duplicate and then I got a day off for good behavior. (Explanation: I didn’t hog any hands).

Our computers go down frequently but other neighbors have experienced the same frustrations. However, we appreciate your kind offer and don’t be surprised if one day we call upon you.



Mircea1March 14th, 2015 at 3:21 am


Please don’t hesitate to call anytime the machines give you trouble. I mean it

Judy Kay-WolffMarch 14th, 2015 at 12:32 pm


Very kind of you. Will keep it in mind. Thank you.